New Bush TV ad paints Kerry as proponent of higher taxes

Democratic-allied groups preparing to target Bush on leadership, economy

March 26, 2004|By Nick Anderson | Nick Anderson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - President Bush lashes his presumed Democratic challenger as a proponent of taxing Social Security benefits and raising gasoline taxes in a new television commercial, released yesterday, that underscores the increasingly acrid tone of the presidential race.

The president's advertisement, expected to target 18 key states, is the fourth to attack John Kerry by name since the Bush campaign went on air three weeks ago.

Its central premise, expanding on recent Republican attacks, is that Kerry's record shows him in favor of raising taxes in a variety of ways - pointing to what Kerry would do if elected president, Bush aides said.

"John Kerry's economic record - troubling," the ad's script says, pointing to the Massachusetts senator's past support for a 50-cent gas tax and taxes on Social Security benefits.

Kerry's camp issued a flurry of rebuttals yesterday, saying he discarded the gas-tax proposal years ago and a tax enacted in 1993 on wealthy Social Security beneficiaries was part of a Democratic budget policy grounded in fiscal responsibility.

Kerry's aides arranged for Leon E. Panetta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, to denounce the ad in a conference call with reporters. Panetta charged that Bush has "a credibility problem with the American people."

The Republican incumbent and the Democratic nominee-in-waiting were not alone in hurling charges.

Democratic-allied groups were preparing to target Bush early next week with TV ads that question his leadership in the battle against terrorism and on economic issues.

The script of one ad, prepared by the liberal MoveOn.org political action committee, quotes former Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke as saying the president missed chances to focus on terrorist threats before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Eli Pariser, the committee's executive director, said the group had raised more than $200,000 to place the ad on CNN early next week and perhaps on other channels.

Another ad, sponsored by the anti-Bush group Media Fund, challenges the president on the economy and accuses him of raiding Social Security funds "to pay for a tax cut for millionaires." A spokesman for the fund, Jim Jordan, said the ad had been placed in 17 states.

Although the election is still more than seven months away, the back-and-forth over TV airwaves has shown a surprising degree of intensity. By contrast, in the 2000 presidential race, Bush and his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, did not begin the general-election TV ad battle until June.

This time, Bush sought to set a positive tone at first. About three weeks ago, Bush's team released his first batch of ads, none of which mentioned Kerry. Bush's aides said they contrasted with months of paid TV attacks that Kerry and other Democrats had launched against the president during the primary and caucus races.

Now, though, Bush is matching the Democratic opposition blow for blow, landing more punches directly on Kerry than the senator is releasing. The intensity of these initial exchanges shows the potential for a heated and lengthy 2004 election. Some analysts lamented what that could do to the presidency.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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